How to Grow Your Own Sponge: Luffa

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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Photo by Nicole Wilkey

Luffa or Loofah…no matter the spelling, these make the best skin smoothing exfoliators in the shower and natural dish scrubbers in the kitchen! Raise your hand if you believe they come from the sea… No judgement here, most people believe them to be sea sponges. Would you believe me if I told you they are actually a gourd, and you can grow them too? Luffas are related to the cucumber family, grow on long vines that do great when trellised and are also edible when eaten while small and immature.

Luffas have a very long growing season, requiring 150-200 warm days to mature. So naturally they tend to be gown in areas such as Florida, Mexico and parts of Asia. Don’t be deterred though, if you have a trellis in your garden or along a fence that gets full sun, these gourds can be started indoors or in a greenhouse weeks before you intend to plant them out in a shorter growing season. I like to use arched hog panel trellises for the vines to climb and fill in with lush green leaves and bright yellow flowers. The gourds can then hang down as they mature, typically maturing in early to late fall. The vines grow to about 30 feet long, and while they can take a bit of time to get going, once they take off their growth rate is incredible.

Photo by Nicole Wilkey

If you would like to eat them while still immature and before they become fibrous many do so up to about 6’’ in length, they are a popular ingredient in many Indian and Asian dishes. A fully mature luffa gourd can grow up to 24’’ in length before it begins to dry and mature on the vine.

Photo by Nicole Wilkey

To grow your own natural sponges and have a successful luffa harvest start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse {if you are not in a tropical climate}, preferably on a heat mat to speed up germination. I have started seeds anywhere from 4-8 weeks before our last average frost date, to be planted out as soon as the threat of frost has passed. I leave all of the gourds on the vine to mature and dry, until frost has killed off the entire vine. By leaving the gourd on the vine as long as possible, or until it is completely dry, it makes the cleaning much easier as you can be sure that most or all of the starchy interior is gone and only the fibrous loofah is left behind.

When the gourd is brown, wrinkled and feels very light in weight, you are ready to peel off the outer skin. Once completely peeled you can easily shake out the seeds. Don’t forget to save some seeds for next year and maybe some for your friends! Once peeled and seeds are removed, I like to spray off the luffa with a hose and spray nozzle, the nozzle creates some pressure to make sure you remove all of the starchy coating that may be left behind. From here you can dry them for use in your bathroom, kitchen or wherever you plan to use these fun sponges. You may have some luffas that have brown spots or discoloration, not to worry, they are easy to clean up in a bucket of bleach water. I like to sit them, submerged, in a bucket of bleach water for a couple of days or until they are all uniform in color.

Photo by Pixabay/juhele

Once your luffa sponges have been cleaned they are ready to hit the showers- acting as both a natural washcloth and an exfoliator for smooth skin. Or send your luffa to do the dishes, scrubbing plates and your sink until they shine.

I love growing luffas in my garden, they lend a fun and unique crop that makes great gifts, is a great conversation starter and will last for a very long time as a useful tool in your house. Many online seed companies carry luffa seeds to get your crop going, and once you harvest a single luffa you’ll never need to buy seeds again.

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

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